Protesters gather outside the Lowndes County Courthouse on Tuesday morning before a supervisors meeting to demand Harry Sanders' resignation in response to racist remarks he made about African Americans June 15. Photo by: Claire Hassler/Dispatch Staff
June 30, 2020 10:37:07 AM
Harry Sanders opened Tuesday morning's Lowndes County Board of Supervisors meeting by stepping down as board president.
He did not resign from the board entirely.
Instead, he turned the meeting over to board vice president John Holliman, who moved to the head of the table while Sanders moved over to the side. As that happened, dozens of protesters gathered outside were chanting, "Harry must go!"
"It's appropriate for me to step down as board president," Sanders said. "I submit my resignation as board president immediately."
Sanders' concession came weeks after his on-the-record comments to a Dispatch reporter that the Black community failed to "assimilate" into American culture and remained "dependent" since slavery ended. He has represented District 1 on the board for more than 20 years and has been board president for the majority of that time.
But District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks told Sanders resigning as president was "not enough" and introduced a resolution asking fellow supervisors to call for Sanders' full resignation.
It passed 3-1. Sanders voted against it. Holliman abstained.
The resolution has no legal effect and cannot be used to force out Sanders.
Holliman defended Sanders and asked Brooks to find a way to forgive his comments.
"I'm a Christian like you, Leroy, I believe that if you can't forgive your fellow man," Holliman said. "... I hate all of this happened. I don't agree with the comments Harry made, but everybody makes mistakes."
Brooks, who said Sanders' comments "insulted" and "enraged" him, did not budge.
"This is about the future of our community," Brooks said. "One man is going to hold us hostage for whatever reason. We're going to send a strong message."
Sanders made the racist comments after voting with the board's white majority on June 15 to leave the Confederate monument in front of the courthouse in place. The remarks have sparked multiple local protests, drew public scrutiny from local officials and community leaders and gained national attention over the past two weeks.
Most recently, almost 150 members from the local business community -- including representatives from the Golden Triangle Development LINK, the Columbus Lowndes Chamber of Commerce and the Trust -- publicly called for Sanders' resignation in a pages-long statement in The Dispatch's Sunday edition.
"In just a few minutes, with only a few statements, (Sanders) recklessly injured our community's reputation and broke our trust in his leadership," the statement read. "Our ability to attract and grow industry, create new and better job opportunities and continue our community's success is now at risk. Perhaps more importantly, our fundamental ability to work together as a community to achieve these goals is now in limbo. We cannot stand on the sidelines and remain silent while Harry Sanders remains in office."
On Tuesday, Hairston, in supporting Brooks' resolution, referenced the "damage done" to the community.
"I too, believe, that Harry should resign from his position on the board," he said. "I saw the names listed in the letter ... a lot of those people live in my district. I stand with them. I worry about the damage caused."
The meeting abruptly adjourned without the board conducting any further business, including reconsidering whether to relocate the Confederate monument to Friendship Cemetery,
Brooks moved to adjourn the meeting until Monday and asked Sanders to seriously think about resigning before then.
"Harry, I find no joy in what's happening. I do find joy that the community has come together ... and (said it) is wrong," Brooks said. "We've seen the bad side of Harry Sanders, I'm asking you to show the good side. Don't cause blood to be on anybody's hand ... to prove a point. I'm asking you, in the name of Jesus, to resign from the board."
Yue Stella Yu is the local government reporter for The Dispatch. Reach her at 662-328-2424 (ext 106) or follow her on Twitter @StellaYu_Mizzou
1. Water park sues Oktibbeha County for not maintaining lake dam STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY
2. CMSD student, teacher test positive for COVID COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
4. Starkville site studied for evidence of mass extinction 66 million years ago STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY
5. More than 2,600 students opt for traditional school, 1,700 for virtual at SOCSD STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY